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Monday, June 4, 2012

The Better Angels of Our Nature

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker is one huge piece of literature.  It tops out at 832 intense pages of facts, figures, and analyses.

Pinker's thesis in a nutshell is that violence has declined over time.  We aren't talking man-on-man-stabbing-people-and-stealing-their-cars violence; we are talking large-scale violence (wars and government takeover) that then trickles down into the man-on-man violence.  Using an insane amount of research, graphs, and sources, Pinker lays out his argument that we are actually in a fairly peaceful time at present regardless of the amount of wars that we have seen in the 20th and 21st centuries. 

I will not lie to you folks--I had to check this book out of the library three times to get through the whole thing on my Kindle.  It is incredibly dense and a super big time (and emotional) commitment because it is written in a scholarly-like fashion.  I appreciate this type of writing and loved sinking my teeth into it, but I feel it is only fair to warn you so you won't get mad at me later. 

There were of course some points of contention that I took with Pinker's arguments about why empathy doesn't really matter in the long-term; I am a social science researcher, after all.  I did, though, enjoy Pinker's intricately laid-out argument for his ideas and his research.  I am also not entirely sure that I agree with all of his arguments about why we are in a time a peace, but overall I think he did an excellent job of laying out his data to provide his readers with a thoroughly convincing argument.  I would highly recommend this book if you are interested in exploring the idea that we are currently in an era in which we enjoy decent government (as compared to the past) and much lesser fear of being killed by our neighbors.

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